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Road breach throws spanner in tourism hope

- Showers cut off highway to destinations in North Sikkim

Gangtok, Sept. 26: The Sikkim tourism industry is staring at the loss of a sizeable chunk of visitors in the season beginning next month because of blocks on the highway to North Sikkim following a flash flood and landslides last week.

The Border Roads Organisation said it would take at least a month for the restoration of the highway that links Gangtok to North district’s Lachung and Lachen.

The peak season is from the beginning of October till the first week of December.

The road breach couldn’t have come at a worse time for the industry that was hoping to recoup the losses it had suffered in last year’s earthquake.

“This morning, I received an email from a client in Calcutta who had booked rooms in North Sikkim for October. The mail told us about the cancellation of the trip. We are afraid that if the trend continues, we will lose more tourists this season,” said tour operator Ashok Gurung.

Many tourists to Sikkim visit Yumthang Valley, Lachung, Gurudongmar Lake and Lachen in the North district.

Lachung and Lachen have 120 hotels where room tariff is around Rs 2,000 a night.

“The peak seasons begins in October and ends in the first week of December. North district accounts for 65 per cent of tourists who come to Sikkim,” said tour operator Paljor Lachungpa.

The BRO said it would take at least one month to clear the route to North Sikkim of landslides. “We have pressed into service all our resources to restore the North district highway as early as possible. Difficult terrain, inclement weather and the sheer number of slides are impediments to the restoration,” said a senior BRO official.

Another equally popular destination of Tsogmo Lake in East district also remains blocked because of frequent slides along the Jawaharlal Nehru Marg.

With the reopening of the North Sikkim highway before November being a distant possibility, the tour operators are trying their best to convince the clients to reschedule the itinerary, instead of scrapping the visits.

“We request tourists to visit spots in the West and South districts rather than cancelling their bookings. There are many areas of tourist interest in both the districts,” said Satish Bardewa, the president of the Travel Agents’ Association of Sikkim.

Some of the popular tourist destinations in South and West Sikkim are the Sideshwar Dham, Sai Mandir, Samdruptse, Rock Garden, Pelling, Darap and Hee Bermoik.

According to the tourism officials, 7 lakh tourists visit Sikkim on an average a year and 50 per cent of them are from Bengal.